Why is recycling old electronics important?

In the world we live in today it seems our electronics are outdated before we have even had time to finish setting up the one we just bought.  Electronics consumption is a vicious cycle.  We are constantly bombarded with the newest, flashiest pieces of tech on the market driving us to exchange our gadgets more quickly than most everything else we own.  The environmental and social impacts of the tech boom stretch around the globe.  As our pocket-sized gadgets have rapidly become smaller and more complex, the demand for rare metals and other raw materials has sky-rocketed.  The Consumer Electronics Association[1] estimates each household in the United States to have approximately twenty-four (24) electronic devices.  If each household were to replace just 4 of those electronics every year that would be close to 450,000,000 electronic devices sent to the landfill each year (based on the estimation that there are close to 110,000,000 households in the U.S. using census data).  This astounding volume of electronics has flooded our global society’s disposal systems resulting in landfills of electronics in parts of the developing world.  Given the value of the heavy metals and raw materials contained in these electronic devices, the market for recycling them is quite substantial yet the vast majority of electronics still find their way into our landfills.

What is e-waste?

As defined by the EPA, e-waste consists of “waste electrical or electronic equipment that is dependent upon electrical currents or electromagnetic fields in order to function (including all components, subassemblies, and consumables which are a part of the original equipment at the time of discarding)”.  These can include but are not limited to:

  • Computers
  • TVs
  • DVD players
  • Power tools
  • Lighting devices
  • Telephones
  • Cell phones
  • Printers
  • Fax machines
  • Household appliances
  • Electrical toys
  • Fitness machines

 

What harmful materials do old electronics contain?

Most electronics are made with a lot of plastic, which as we all know is not earth-friendly, they also contain toxic elements which can be harmful to our health and the environment.  Additionally, the also contain precious metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, copper, zinc, etc., that have to be mined from the earth for the manufacturing of new electronic equipment.  If we recycle our electronics those materials can be reused in the manufacturing of new devices and won’t have to be taken from the earth.

According to the EPA, “almost all of the materials used to manufacture a cell phone can be recovered to make new products. Metals, plastics, and rechargeable batteries from cell phones are turned into new materials and products.”  They go on to explain how the materials are reused:

“Cell phones contain a number of metals – gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin and zinc – that are recovered in the recycling process. The recovered metals are then used by a number of different industries such as jewelry, plating, electronics, automotive, and art foundries.” (EPA)

“The plastics recovered from cell phones are recycled into plastic components for new electronic devices or other plastic products such as garden furniture, license plate frames, non-food containers, and replacement automotive parts.” (EPA)

“When the rechargeable battery can no longer be reused, the battery can be recycled into other rechargeable battery products.” (EPA)

Where can you take yours?

Reducing the volumes of these materials that end up in our landfills can only have a positive effect on our well-being; there simply aren’t any drawbacks to the reduction, reuse and proper disposal of e-waste.  So now let’s see how we can help you figure out what you can do with all of your old electronics.  Here is a picture of some items we took to Best Buy just last week free of charge:

recycle-your-electronics0

Contact your local electronics retailer and ask them about electronics recycling programs.  Many of them, like our local Best Buy, offer take-back programs of their own.  The picture below was taken at the entrance of a local retail store and as you can see they provide a black bin for electronics recycling.

recycle-your-electronics1

This link provided by the EPA gives the option of searching by device or by company to find out which retailers and manufacturers will take your old electronics.  Additionally, most local recycling programs offer electronics recycling either at specific drop-off locations or hold special events where they will collect your old equipment.  If you look up the county where you live within the state of Maryland in our past blogs you will find out where you can take yours, along with additional recycling help.

Not recycling at work?  

Contact us to learn more about how Reduction In Motion is helping organizations achieve their sustainability goals.  We specialize in waste reduction and waste flow strategies for companies of all sizes.  Focused on education and driven by on-site facilitation, our processes have helped our clients achieve award-winning programs.  Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


[1] Consumer Electronics Association. Market Research Report: Trends in CE Reuse, Recycle and Removal. April 2008.